White House flack-in-chief Robert Gibbs calls the thing a “silly argument,” which in itself is an uncommonly stupid statement, but the flat denial today of what looks like a potential sweetheart deal offered to Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT), a Democrat holdout against Obamacare, in which his brother was given a federal judgeship as an inducement to move his vote over the line to “yes” has only thrown gas on a rising bonfire of a controversy.
The Weekly Standard’s John McCormack broke the story yesterday on the judgeship issue, reporting in his piece on the subject that Matheson had been opposed to the House version of Obamacare when it was in committee and voted against it on the floor in November of last year. As of two weeks ago, however, the congressman’s staff said he was noncommittal on the legislation and yesterday he attended an arm-twisting session at the White House with nine other Democrat House members who had previously voted no.
Matheson’s district isn’t Harlem or San Francisco. It went 61 percent for John McCain in 2008 and 67 percent for George W. Bush in 2004. His rating of 36 percent from the American Conservative Union makes him a borderline-moderate Democrat, but certainly not somebody who can afford to vote yes on Obamacare without the expectation that he’ll be out of a job next year.
The left-wing Media Matters website, in taking up for Gibbs’ “silly” statement, noted (perhaps accidentally) something else relatively pertinent to the case – namely that Scott Matheson, the would-be judge and Congressman’s brother, had put in for the judgeship last summer. Didn’t get nominated for it until yesterday, which means nine months between his asking to be considered and getting the thumbs-up. The judgeship has been open for seven months.
So no, Gibbsy, it’s not a “silly” argument. It’s a very serious argument and a quite significant charge. We’ve already got an example from this administration whereby Joe Sestak was offered a federal job in return for not running against Arlen Specter, and given the examples of the Louisiana Purchase, the Cornhusker Kickback, the set-asides for union Cadillac health plans, the $100 million free hospital in Connecticut and the freebies for seniors in Florida, no accusation of inside dealing arising from this administration is beyond the pale.
No one is suggesting that Scott Matheson isn’t qualified to be a federal judge. He is. He’s been a law professor, a law school dean, the head of the Utah Mine Safety Commission and a U.S. Attorney. But he was all those things seven months ago, and thus the appearance of impropriety has crept in to what could have been a perfectly ho-hum appointment. Now Rep. Michele Bachmann is calling for an independent investigation into the matter, rightly pointing out that Democrats would do the same were Obama and the Mathesons Republicans and the legislation in question, say, Social Security privatization.
Either way, it’s not unreasonable to cry foul at the appearance of scummy Chicago-style dealing by America’s highest-ranking elected official. And calling this a “silly argument” in attempting to dismiss a substantive controversy won’t wash.